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Fri August 15, 2003
Merchant and Ivory have done much better before.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
If Henry James saw "Le Divorce," he would wonder how we missed his lessons in developing expatriate characters and intriguing plots. Not even Kate Hudson, whose character, Isabel, is clearly meant to evoke the European-bound traveler from "Portrait of a Lady"; not even Naomi Watts, whose turn in "Mulholland Drive" made me a lifelong fan, could save this vapid romantic comedy about Americans in Paris experiencing the much-ballyhooed French infidelity and the now-universal puzzle of divorce. Merchant and Ivory have done much better before.
The photography of Paris is pleasing to the eye, the French interiors equally so, and the French actors are superior (with the exception of the capable Glenn Close as a knowing American author). But what saves "Le Divorce" from critical oblivion is its honest attempt to reveal the differences in the American and French cultures. For example, one character says that at meals the French talk about any subject but money while Americans never stop talking about it.
Don't despair: Americans are superior in their anguish over infidelity and their seriousness about marriage. Like our own subversive fast food, however, the French blas? attitude toward these subjects is seductive, and soon Isabel is very French in all her dealings.
If you can get past idiotic bits like the crazed Matthew Modine character stalking the wife of his wife's lover and see the Americans and the French as different, you may salvage this film in your mind. Otherwise, see "Jet Lag" for an idea of how poorly even the French can do with films.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.